At a remote case management hearing on Monday 14th December, 2020, an Employment Tribunal judge in Leeds was told that a serving West Yorkshire Police officer, Sergeant Umer Saeed has lodged a formal complaint against a well known Leeds barrister, Olivia Checa-Dover (writes Neil Wilby).
It concerns a disputed account of a conversation between Sgt Saeed’s barrister at the time, Adam Willoughby, and Miss Checa-Dover, that took place on 17th January, 2019. She was representing WYP in those same Tribunal proceedings in which Sgt Saeed is claiming racial and religious discrimination against his employer (read more here).
The hearing of the claim was listed to open on 16th January, 2019 but that session was, in the event, set aside as a reading day and, moreover, the Tribunal panel was aware that the parties were in negotiations with a view to settling the claim.
It was during those discussions that the subject conversation took place, on the following day.
It is said by Mr Willoughby that a coercive threat to end Sgt Saeed’s career as an operational police officer was made by Miss Checa-Dover. A matter she robustly denies, having an entirely different recollection of what took place between them.
There were no independent witnesses to the conversation, although Mr Willoughby relies upon detailed contemporaneous notes made in his ‘blue book’.
The evidential aspects of the dispute between counsel were fully ventilated in the hearing earlier this week as both barristers, having recused themselves from the claim, were subjected to lengthy and highly forensic cross-examination.
Solicitor Victoria Clegg also gave evidence for the police, which was very largely procedural. She is not the subject of complaint by her WYP colleague, Sgt Saeed. Essentially, Mrs Cleg confirmed that Miss Checa-Dover did not have instructions either from her, or the chief constable, to say the things she allegedly put to Mr Willoughby.
Although no reporting restrictions are in place, a full account of those proceedings is being delayed until Judge Knowles has made his determination on the present matters in issue. Those include whether to consolidate two further claims made by Sgt Saeed, concerning other detriments arising by way of the conduct of the defence of the claim by WYP, namely victimisation and disability discrimination, together with the original claim.
The hearing over-ran and it was not possible to hear final submissions from newly appointed counsel Dijen Basu QC (for Sgt Saeed) and David Jones (for WYP). The parties, and the judge, decided, after a short discussion, that those remaining matters could be satisfactorily dealt with on paper. It is expected that judgment will be handed down towards the end of January, 2021.
What emerged in evidence from Mr Willoughby and Miss Checa-Dover, some of it highly controversial, to say the least, will be reported alongside the judge’s findings, in what is an exceptional and sensitive case.
The status of Sgt Saeed’s complaint to the Bar Standards Board, made in March 2019, was not discussed in the hearing. It is assumed that any actions by the BSB have been stayed, pending the fact finding of Judge Knowles. They do not comment on individual cases and Sgt Saeed is reluctant to give any further details.
Umer Saeed is a nationally known figure in Black and Muslim staff associations. He is Chair of the West Yorkshire Black Police Association, and General Secretary and a Cabinet Member of the National Black Police Association. He is also a trained Police Federation representative and speaks four languages; Arabic, Punjabi, Slovak and Urdu. He joined the police service in June, 1999, spending most of his career in specialist teams, and has a BSc degree in Business Administration and Management. He is presently negotiating with WYP over study for a much coveted Master In Business Administration (MBA) qualification.
Adam Willoughby is the Head of Sports Law and Deputy Head of Employment Law at Broadway House Chambers in Leeds. He is described as “an impressive advocate” with “exceptional analytical ability”.
Olivia Checa-Dover is a police law specialist with KBW Chambers, much favoured by West Yorkshire Police. It is said that “she has an exceptionally sharp mind and an eye for detail“. She also sits as a legally qualified chair in police disciplinary hearings, was appointed as a Recorder (part-time judge) in April, 2019 and also sits as a Deputy District Judge.
She represents WYP in another highly controversial, fiercely contested civil claim brought by Bradford GP, Dr Abdul Rashid, in which the force lost out at the High Court, on appeal (read more here). Mr Justice Lavender found that Dr Rashid had been unlawfully arrested in March, 2012, overturning a highly criticised County Court judgment of Mr Recorder Ben Nolan QC.
A hearing, to assess the amount of damages Dr Rashid will be paid, is expected to be listed for July, 2021.
The conduct of the police has been the subject of fierce criticism throughout those proceedings and the events that preceded them.
Miss Checa-Dover deleted her Twitter social media account shortly after publication of this article. Her chambers, KBW, blocked the author without any interaction beyond a single, innocuous tweet posted almost three months ago (see here). Matters, alongside some extraordinary and unpleasant conduct by Chambers Head, David Brooke QC, that will be the subject of a further article after the publication of the judgment featured in the present piece. He also, surprisingly in the light of that conduct, sits as a part-time judge.
Page last updated: Monday 1st March, 2021 at 1135 hours
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